The Architecture Design Process

The development of a building is a lengthy process. In fact, architects follow a set of steps to ensure that...
Architecture design process

The development of a building is a lengthy process. In fact, architects follow a set of steps to ensure that the project gets completed efficiently and without error. In this article, we’ve outlined each stage of the architecture design process, from gathering information, designing, to constructing.

If you’re an architecture student, the design process is similar to that of architects. This article also highlights the key steps to follow to complete your project in an organized way.

Why do we need a process and set of architectural design phases?

Being in charge of the design and construction of a building comes with great responsibility, and there is very little room for change once the project is completed. As a result, having a set of architectural design phases helps organize the management of the project.

Not only that, but clients will feel less worried knowing that there is a set method of information production and a timeline for its completion and issue.

Why is the design process important in architecture?

There are many reasons to have a design process. Following a set of design phases enables you to be efficient and transparent in regards to your project.

Additionally, having a clear set of steps will reduce the possibility of missing a task. Not to mention, the design process reduces risk because you are following a plan that has already effectively worked.

From architects, contractors, and engineers, many teams work on the development of a building. Therefore, laying out a design process helps different teams to work together and smoothly.

The following set of design phases set clear expectations by putting in place realistic project deliverable’s and deadlines. Overall, this can reduce the risk of failure of an architecture project.

The 7 phase to the architecture design process

Pre-design phase

The pre-design phase, or the programming phase, is dedicated to understanding your clients needs, researching information that’s relevant to the project, and considering ideas.

Define the problem

First, it is important to discuss with the client what he/she wants completed. The client may have constraints such as budget and time. Medium suggests developing an initial design brief such as this one:

  • Define the project
  • Project characteristics
  • Objectives of the project

Research and collect information

Now that you have identified the client’s needs and the objectives for the project, it is necessary to gather information that will support the development of the project. Moreover, the data you collect may help inform design decisions in later steps.

Here is some information that is important to research about a project:

  • Project scope
  • Client’s desires
  • Scale
  • Building use
  • Surrounding buildings
  • Neighborhood
  • Site conditions
  • Building codes
  • Zoning laws

Dedicated analysis of the site will supply relevant information such as the site’s limitations and benefits. Consequently, this makes the architect consider how to respond to these conditions.

For additional information regarding the site, have a look at Introduction to Architecture Site Analysis.

Brainstorm/analyze ideas

Once you’ve gathered information about the project, the next step is to generate and consider solutions. Using your knowledge of architecture, sketch and model possible designs that address the site conditions and client’s needs.

Additionally, you may consider different elements that you want to incorporate into your project.

How to Develop and Architecture Design concept contains more information on developing project ideas.

After you brainstorm initial designs for the project, it is time to review them and consider which elements are working. For example, the shadow conditions of one idea may be most favorable, while the layout of another might function the best.

This can lead you to develop a more thorough design that includes characteristics of several initial ideas.

Schematic design phase

Following the first consideration of ideas for the project, the next process is to develop designs and present them to the client.

Develop design proposals

During the schematic design phase, architects develop site plans, floor plans, and building elevations to represent their designs. Additionally, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems are also included.

Present your ideas to others for feedback

Architect’s have multiple meetings with the client to present drawings and models of different possibilities, where they discuss what ideas they find favorable.

Occasionally, there is disagreement between the architect and the client over the design or specific feature of the building. Therefore, it is important to consider the client’s wishes as well as and be convincing when presenting ideas.


After meeting with clients, an architect then considers the feedback. While changes can be made to the project later on, it is easier to do so in an earlier stage of the design process.

Ultimately, the architect and client will meet until they both agree on a design direction for the next phase.

Design development phase

During the next stage, the architect creates a more detailed plan of the design that he/she and the client agreed upon. This includes the placement of the doors and windows and adjusting the building form.

At which stage a structural engineer is engaged to join the design team, where they can help with project estimates and how different designs can be constructed.


The architect will present interior and exterior finishes to the client. Additionally, elements such as materials, fixtures, and finishes will be discussed. In times of disagreement, you may have to compromise over these details with the client.


At the end of the design development phase, the building’s exterior, layout, and dimensions are all completed. Additionally, most of the materials will already have been chosen. Final minor changes are made to the building’s design.

Construction documents phase

In the next stage, the architect transitions from providing design services to producing working construction drawings for the development of the project.

Usually, this is the longest step in the design process, as architects must ensure their design is planned well for execution, as well as waiting for documents to be approved.

Additionally, an in-house construction contractor may join the development team at this stage. The two sets of drawings that are required at this point are the permit set and the construction set.

The building permit set is sent to the local permitting authority for approval. The process can take a while, so it’s crucial to complete and submit this first.

The Issue for construction set contains all of the details and dimensions to communicate the design to the builder throughout the construction process. 

Building permit phase

Once the architect submits the building permit set, the city or county reviews it for structural integrity and following the local zoning laws and building codes.

This is necessary to safeguard architects, builders, and property owners from possibly dangerous mistakes in construction. Additionally, the project’s construction cannot legally begin without securing the permits first.

For small projects, the approval can take a couple days. However, larger projects or buildings in historic districts can take months for approval.  

Bidding and negotiation phase

This step is only applicable to architecture firms that aren’t building the project themselves.

In the bidding phase, architects must locate a construction company to build their design. It is easier to find a builder if your project already has its permits, as it’s ready to start construction.

Moreover, the architect’s role is to advise the client in selecting a contractor that offers the best qualifications and cost. The first method is the negotiated bid. During meetings, the builders go through construction documents and review materials and schedules. In some cases, the client already has a builder in mind.

In the competitive bid process, the architect researches local builders and their past projects. Afterwards, the architect invites contractors to compete for the project.

Once the construction documents are sent over, contractors usually have around three weeks to develop a bid to present. The main factor that is considered when hiring a contractor is the cost, but quality and experience are also important.

Additionally, the construction company forms a contract with the client rather than the architect. Therefore, clients will want to make sure that an excellent builder is hired for the job.

Construction administration phase

In the final design process, the architect frequently visits the site to answer any of the builders’ questions and address possible issues, this is crucial to avoid delays .

Depending on the scale of the project, the architect may visit the site every week or month. Moreover, the construction crew now has control over the development of the project.

Depending on the project, this phase can take several years until the building’s construction is completed.

The architecture design process for students

While architecture students usually don’t develop projects that actually get built, they must follow a similar design process. This is helpful for planning your schedule and improving your design.

Define the problem

Similar to practicing architects, students should identify what the task is. Often, an assignment sheet will provide this information as well as the site’s location and deliverable’s that the professor requires.

A professor may want a physical scale model (i.e. ⅛ in = 1 ft), a slide show presentation, along with a set number of printed drawings.

Collect information

Once you recognize what the project is, you need to gather data that will help inform your designs through site analysis and research. Of course, this only applies if there is a specific site for your project. If close, you can visit the site and document the following information for example:

  • Sun’s direction
  • Weather conditions
  • Location of trees
  • Dimensions
  • Surrounding buildings
  • Circulation of people on/around the site

If the location is too far to visit, you can virtually examine the site’s conditions using Google Maps Street View or Google Earth.

Brainstorm and Analyze Ideas

After the collection of site information, you can think about how to approach the prompt and specific design elements that you want to incorporate into your project.

For instance, what style of architecture will your building be? An example of a design element would be an outdoor space with shade. 

Develop Solutions

Once you consider elements to include, you can start developing concepts for your design. The Kent School of Architecture and Planning suggests that students sketch out their ideas.

At this stage, quick physical drawings are more effective than using computer software, as they are better at expressing your various ideas and recording concepts on the spot.

You may review your ideas and then model one virtually, using software such as Rhino, AutoCad, or SketchUp. Developing plans and sections will help communicate your ideas to others for the next stage.

Gather Feedback

Discover Design highlights the importance of presenting your ideas to as many people that can help with the development of your project. Depending on your class, you may have full or desk crits before the final presentation.

Therefore, you should note all of the feedback from professors and peers. It is useful to bring a notebook and pen to crits to jot down any feedback you receive. Another tip is to talk to teaching assistants or older students if you’re unsure about any ideas.


After receiving feedback, consider making changes that could improve your design and you agree with. You will most likely go through several rounds of obtaining feedback and making revisions, but it will ultimately shape you into a greater designer.

Additionally, finalizing your project includes developing additional drawings that communicate your project. For example, an exploded axonometric drawing.

For more information on this, check out An Architect’s Guide to Architecture Drawing. Additionally, developing physical models along the way will help you understand the scale, lighting, and materials of the project.


Overall, architects bear the large responsibility to design the buildings around us. In order to generate effective solutions and ensure the structural integrity of a project, following an order of steps is necessary.

Moreover, architects must consult with the client regarding their design, building features, and selecting a builder. 

Meanwhile, architecture students follow a similar process to define the problem, come up with ideas, present to others, and make revisions.


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